HARPERS FERRY — Senate Majority Leader John Unger has asked the West Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct an engineering study of what he says are hazardous conditions along Chestnut Hill Road in Jefferson County.
[cleeng_content id="119037188" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]In an April 15 letter to Transportation Secretary Paul A. Mattox Jr., Unger, a ranking Democrat from Berkeley County, requests that a study look at what can be done to improve the road.
Unger references a study of Chestnut Hill Road conducted by the transportation department’s Geotechnical Section five years ago, that uncovered one large piece of granite slowly splitting off and shifting.
“It is impossible to estimate by sight alone the mass of the granite face,” Unger said, in the letter. “If this is dislodged, Chestnut Hill Road and U.S. 340 all the way to the river would be destroyed with potential loss of human life and property.”
Unger suggests that possible solutions such as terracing, cutting setbacks and using gabion baskets or other stone fencing to hold the boulders in place be immediately considered.
“As I am certain you are aware, a permanent closure of Chestnut Hill Road is not a solution without providing other means of ingress and egress from the mountain,” he said. “In the event of an emergency, the lack of access would put thousands, i.e., everyone north of the intersection of Hostler Road and Chestnut Hill Road, at risk of being land locked.”
Carrie Bly, communications specialist with the Department of Transportation, said that in response to Unger’s request, a geotechnical team will be out surveying Chestnut Hill Road sometime next week.
“In 2011, a geotechnical crew visited the site of a rock fall on U.S. 340 near Harpers Ferry at the Virginia state line,” Bly said in an email. “There was no official report filed, but fractures and widening of joints due to ice jacking (freeze/thaw process) were observed.”
Bly said there is an option to shift the roadway toward the river. This would allow for a “fall zone” for the rocks.
But before that can happen, widening of the road would need to take place in West Virginia and Virginia, she said. Those decisions and negotiations still need to be discussed by both states before any changes are made.
Meanwhile, Unger, in an interview this week, said that as chairman of the West Virginia Legislature’s committee on transportation and infrastructure, he needed to address the hazardous conditions of the road and the potential danger to motorists.
“If there was a potential mudslide and with all the dirt and mud behind the trees, it could cause a lot of damage, and worse, a loss of life,” he said. “That is why I am calling it a dangerous situation and a safety risk … I am asking for a long-term solution. It is truly a safety issue and I am very, very concerned about everybody that uses that road.”
As pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Harpers Ferry, Unger said he has many parishioners who travel from Brunswick in Frederick County that are fearful of Chestnut Hill Road during a heavy rain.
A heavy rain storm that hit the area March 31 caused many of Unger’s Frederick County parishioners to stay home.
“They were fearful there would be a mudslide,” he said. “I had a lot that didn’t come because they were fearful.”
Ros Burns, a 20-year resident who lives on Wildlife Road, just off of Chestnut Hill Road, said she has been concerned about the safety of the road for years.
“This whole area is extremely prone to rock slides,” she said. “There are a lot of big [housing] developments, and more people live on that stretch of the county than live in the valley … There are huge slabs of granite on the edge of Chestnut Hill Road.
“This needs attention and it needs attention now,” she said. “It’s not just a hazard to the people that live up here, but all the cars that travel down [on U.S. 340].”